To prevent failure in implementing decisions, or in managing projects or processes, imagine that the implementation completely failed. Then, brainstorm all plausible reasons for failure, and generate solutions to these potential problems. Integrate these solutions into your project or process. That’s the key take-away message of this episode of the Wise Decision Maker Guide, which describes the 8 Key Steps to Prevent Failure in Implementing Decisions or in Managing Projects and Processes.
Videocast: “8 Key Steps to Prevent Failure in Implementing Decisions or in Managing Projects and Processes”
Podcast: “8 Key Steps to Prevent Failure in Implementing Decisions or in Managing Projects and Processes”
Links Mentioned in Videocast and Podcast
- Here’s the article about the 8 Key Steps to Prevent Failure in Implementing Decisions or in Managing Projects and Processes
- The book Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters is available here
- You are welcome to register for the free Wise Decision Maker Course
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Wise Decision Maker. Now, making wise decisions is half the battle. The other half of the battle is implementing these decisions, because if you make a wise decision, but you fall down in implementing it, you’re not really going to get what you’re going for, right? We’ll talk today about a strategy that you can use to implement your decisions in the most effective manner possible. It’s especially effective for major projects and critical processes. The strategy is called Failure Proofing, and boy, do I wish I knew about it earlier in my life.
Now, I’m almost embarrassed to admit it now, but I used to be the kind of person, who, when he made a decision, when I made a decision, I used to just charge ahead, you know, not really thinking about it thoroughly, not thinking about implementing it, it was just go – go – go. I made a decision, let’s go and implement it. So, I remember a time, again, pretty early on in my relationship with my wife and business partner, Agnes Vishnevkin, when we decided to get a house. So, we moved in together, you know, lived for a little bit, and decided to get a house. This, again, was early in our relationship, when neither she nor I knew about the mental blind spots called cognitive biases, or didn’t know much about them. So we decided to buy a house, and what I now realize, it was sort of a foolish impulse to follow that American dream of being home owners, and so on, so that’s what we did. We spent a lot of time looking for good options, and found one that was pretty reasonable, and we made a bid, we won the bid, we put down the earnest money of $1,500, and then we told our parents. Yeah, they were not happy with us or the quality of our decision making. Neither her parents nor my parents were happy with us, and they made us sit down and actually think through the house buying decision pretty carefully. And we looked at the finances – really thinking about the finances – what they pointed out, and what we really hadn’t thought about is that just making a down payment, which we had the money for, and the mortgage would not be nearly enough to cover the house costs, because there is also taxes, which, you know, had been covered by our rent, and also upkeep, repairs and so on, and I was really surprised how much that cost when my parents told me how much that stuff costs, again, our renting money used to cover that. And also, all the utilities, the heat, the water, used to be covered by our rent. So, the cost we would pay was actually much more than Agnes and I anticipated, and we realized after we sat down and looked at all the costs, you know, we just couldn’t afford the house. And that pretty much sucked. We moaned and groaned for a while. We tried to figure out what to do, you know, could we afford it in any way, or, what do we do, but you know, we eventually realized that we’re just going to have to break the contract and give away the earnest money. So, they kept the earnest money. We lost money. That was $1,500 down the drain, and, you know, a lot of heartache, a lot of pain. I really wish we had the strategies for preventing failure and implementing decisions much earlier in our relationship, at that time in our relationship, because, then, believe me, we would not have been going to buy the house. We would have been pretty happy renting, and we would have found a nice place to rent, and so on.
So, why did we make that mistake? That mistake comes from a series of dangerous judgment errors that come from how our minds are wired. They come from our gut reactions, our intuitions, partially because of our evolutionary heritage, and partially just because of our biology – just because of our wiring. These errors are called cognitive biases, and that’s what I specialize in. I specialize in studying cognitive biases and helping folks address cognitive biases. And, of course, I suffered from cognitive biases myself.
One of the reasons I am passionate about helping people avoid them is becauseI know how much they hurt on my own skin, like with that house… So, I developed a technique called Failure Proofing. The technique that I developed I specifically used it with my consulting and coaching clients, which is how I make my money, consulting and coaching for business leaders: training and speaking on addressing dangerous judgment errors and making the wisest and most profitable decisions. So I used this technique, and it was especially helpful after they make a decision and they want to implement it, particularly on major projects and critical processes, as I mentioned before. So, I also find it very useful, myself, when I have anything to do with my business – obviously, around my own business (I am the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, a small business) and also in my personal life, when buying a house, buying a car, making a move, any sort of major activity in my personal life. So, the technique in failure proofing is based in cutting edge research in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics in the field called debiasing.
Now, scholars like myself, using the term debiasing doesn’t have anything to do with racism or anything like that. It has to do with fighting cognitive biases, getting rid of cognitive biases, and that is why it’s called debiasing. So, what the research on this topic shows is that just knowing about cognitive biases, such as the cognitive biases that led me and Agnes to make the bad decision on the house purchase, doesn’t really help us that much with addressing cognitive biases. It’s surprising, but it’s kind of like knowing that you should exercise: you know you should exercise; you know, we all should exercise, thirty minutes a day, you know, every day, or at least four times a week or nearly every day, but if we don’t know specifically what exercises to do, it’s going to be pretty hard for us to exercise. And the debiasing techniques are specific strategies that you can use to exercise your mind and gain mental fitness, and effectively address the dangerous judgment errors called cognitive biases. Specifically, failure proofing applies to addressing cognitive biases when you implement your decisions, major decisions on significant projects and important processes.
So, let’s dive into the technique without further ado.
Failure proofing has eight steps. Now, if you have been watching The Wise Decision Maker for a while, if you’ve been listening to it, you know pretty well by now that I like eight-step or ten-step or five question techniques. Why is that? I find that these – well, I developed these techniques not for The Wise Decision Maker, but for use with my coaching and consulting clients, and they find it very useful because it helps them know what steps to go through; it gives them a clear structure, clear guidance, and it helps them coordinate their teams on going through the same steps. Now, when you’re going together with a team through a series of steps, having everyone know all the steps is really helpful. And failure proofing can be done by yourself, but it’s especially useful to be done with a team. So, I’ll go through how you do it with a team, and the blog linked in the notes, it’ll show you both how you can do it with a team and how you can do it by yourself. So, deal? Deal.
First step: you gather all the people who are relevant to making the decision, all the stakeholders. You don’t want more than ten people in the room. An ideal number is six people. You want people, if you have more stakeholders than that, you want people who represent key stakeholders, so just representatives of them. You want to make sure that the people in the room have a mixture of people with authority, so people at the top level of organization, and people with expertise, which not necessarily at all are people at the top level of organization. It depends on the specific decision, process, project that needs to be assessed. So, have a mixture of people with expertise and with authority. Now, you also want to hire, get, a facilitator from outside the team. So you don’t want someone from inside the team, who has a stake in the decision, to actually be part, to be facilitating the decision-making process. So, you can get somebody from outside the team, but inside the organization. You can get somebody from your advisory board, you can get a mentor from outside your organization, you can get a peer from outside your organization. You can get a consultant or a coach, and I often fulfill this role. So that is the kind of facilitator that you can get yourself so you can ensure that you do the failure proofing technique right. Another aspect of the failure-proofing technique that you want to make sure to get right is anonymity. I often get asked about this. Why are so many aspects of the failure-proofing technique anonymous? It’s pretty simple. Because, in the failure-proofing technique, you are likely going to have to voice some unpopular opinions. And if you want those unpopular opinions voiced, people are quite reluctant to voice unpopular opinions if they know that they can get punished for them. So, you know, if somebody says, “The project will fail because the CEO doesn’t have enough experience in implementing this sort of project, and the two times he tried to implement a certain project that failed…” Yeah, you don’t want somebody voicing that. So, you want somebody voicing that, but you don’t want to be the person voicing that. So, that’s why anonymity is so important as part of the process. So, Step One.
Now, Step Two: you explain all the steps, all the eight steps to the people in the room, so that they know what they are getting in for, and how the next steps will go.
Third step: you are getting to the first substantive aspect of failure proofing. What you do is you develop two next-best alternatives. At least two next-best alternatives to the current project, process, decision that you are evaluating. Now, how you are going to do this is that you are going to have people who are part of the group anonymously write out at least one next-best alternative, ideally, three or more. So that’s what you are going to do. Then, you are going to have the facilitator gather the next-best alternatives, go through them, eliminate the same ones, and read them out loud. Then, you have the team discuss them and vote on the two that seem most salient, most acceptable, to the current project or process – whatever you’re discussing. And then you discuss them in more depth and then you anonymously, again anonymously, vote on whether you want one of the next-best alternatives to focus on that or on the current, project, process, or decision. And, most of the time, the large majority of the time, the current project or process wins; however, then you discuss whether you want to incorporate some elements of one or both of the next-best alternatives into the structure of the project or process. And what you want to do when you discuss the next-best alternatives, you want to make sure to get at least a couple of team members defending each next-best alternative, with at least one of the team members having authority, so that not it’s not simply, you know, everyone is for the current project and process and against the next-best alternative. So, you have a thorough evaluation process.
All right, next is a critical step, Step Four, where you basically discuss the reasons for failure of the project. So, how do you do this? Well, you imagine a world where the project completely failed, or the process, or whatever. Completely failed. Really, really, really, really failed. So, why is that important? Because it gives you permission. It gives you permission. It gives all others permission to brainstorm the reasons for why it failed. If people just say, you know, “Now why couldn’t this project fail?”, that is not nearly as effective as just saying, “It failed. Now, why did it fail?” Because otherwise, if we just say, “Why might this fail?” people who are supporters of this project will just have a defensive response, and their emotions will inhibit them from being creative and coming up with actual reasons for failure. And, if you have been watching and listening to The Wise Decision Maker for a while now, you know that emotions determine about 80-90% of what we do, how we think, how we behave, they are critically, critically important, and they are the part of ourselves that we can least control, you know, the only parts of ourselves, the only thing in the world that we can control are our thoughts, our behaviors, and our feelings, and that’s the order in which we can control them. Our thoughts first, our behaviors next, and our feelings last and least. So you want to, immediately, as part of the structure, give their feelings a break, and tell them, “Completely failed. Now come up with reasons for why it failed.” Anonymously. Anonymity is crucial here, especially critical, because this is a part where you get some unpopular, rude opinions, you know, something that someone might interpret as rude. Something having to do with someone’s personality. Or, let’s say, “the project will fail because the marketing manager and the operations manager are at each other’s throats, and they really want to undermine each other more than they want the project to succeed”. Yeah, I’ve heard that. Yeah, I’m not telling you something that I haven’t heard. That has happened, and then we had to discuss that and figure out what to do. That’s a story for another day. But, I know. For this, you imagine all the reasons that have failed, then the facilitator gathers what people all wrote down and ensures anonymity. This is an especially, especially crucial part, to ensure anonymity by the facilitator. So then the facilitator ensures anonymity and voices the common themes as to why something failed. And then you discuss these themes as a team, as a group, you discuss why it failed, and then you move on to the next steps. You talk about the most likely reasons that it failed. So you look at all the failures, and you assign them probability – 10%, 20%, 50%, 70%, 90% – whatever. And you also assign them impact. What is going to be the impact of this failure, so what is going to be the biggest impact failure, or what are going to be some smaller aspects, you know, for example, what if a supplier is late delivering, a moderately important part, maybe you can figure out pretty quickly how to replace that part and it won’t be so catastrophic. But, if, you know, something happens, like, we don’t have enough production to actually fulfill the orders for this, that’s going to be much more serious, because it usually takes a much longer time, usually, to ramp up production or to line up additional production. So, you want to evaluate the seriousness of each reason for failure. You want to especially emphasize and put higher probability and impact on reasons that are seen as rude, problematic, unpopular and so on, because we have an intuitive tendency to not look at these reasons and to ignore them, and to, you know, just sweep them under the rug. You know, keeping nice and comfortable and not having conflicts. Yeah, you don’t want to do that in this case. So, then you focus on fixing problems. That’s the next step.
Step Six: how can you fix these problems? Decide on several failure models that you think are the most relevant, which means a combination of the most likely, of the most harmful, and most rude, politically problematic, challenging, controversial, and then you look at solutions. You see how you can solve them. Brainstorm solutions. Everyone should brainstorm. Discuss solutions. See which ones are the best possible solutions. At this stage, you evaluate any dangerous judgment errors that you might be facing, cognitive biases, like I mentioned. Now which ones? I’m not going to go into depth as to which ones, because there will be a blog link in the episode notes that discusses the assessment with the thirty most dangerous judgment errors in business. In the workplace. So, you can take a look at that blog to learn about which are the most likely problems that you want to assess and address. So, then you fix the problems. You go on to, perhaps, a more fun step for many people, which is:
Step Seven: maximizing success. It really is more fun. I like it more, but you know…your taste maybe. Next, when you are to maximize success, you kind of scrunch the previous three steps into one, because you kind of know already how to do them and I didn’t want to do a ten-step thing. You first imagine that the project or process succeeded spectacularly. It was wonderful. It went beyond your wildest expectations. Perhaps not wildest, but they are really beyond your expectations. Spectacular success. And then, you anonymously write out all the reasons for the success. You have group members write down all the members, again, anonymously, because some controversial issues might be brought up, you know: “The project leader was replaced by someone more competent!” Um, yeah, heard that. So, you come up with reasons for success and then you discuss. Now the facilitator gathers them, again, ensuring anonymity, highlights the key themes, and then you discuss the reasons for success, and you assign probabilities, probabilities again, so likelihood of if you do this, and this, and that, and the impact of success, highlighting especially the ones that are going to be controversial, rude, or politically problematic. And finally, you’ll brainstorm ways that you can ensure the success. You focus on several things that are most, most likely, most relevant, to lead to your success, and you brainstorm reasons, you brainstorm not reasons, you brainstorm strategies, techniques, steps that can lead to that success, and again, you check for cognitive biases when you come up with these solutions. Finally, after you do all that, you go to the last step.
Step Eight, we’re at the conclusion now. So, what you do is, you revise the project, or the project leader or the process leader, whoever has ownership of the decision, revises the project plan, the process plan, the decision implementation, to ensure that all of the elements from next-best alternatives, from the imagining failure, and solving it, from the imagining success and ensuring it, go into the final plan.
And that’s how you prevent project and process disasters, and that’s how you gain outstanding success.
All right. So, that has been the failure-proofing technique. Check out the blog on failure proofing, which is linked in the notes. So is the blog on the assessment on the thirty most dangerous judgment errors in the workplace.
Now, as always, my goal is to provide you with awesome value on avoiding decision disasters, making the best decisions, avoiding cognitive biases, defeating them, and, in general, being awesome in how you implement, create, make, and implement your decisions. I hope I’ve achieved that, so I want to hear from you. Comment, please, in the comments, on how you think the failure-proofing technique might be helpful for you.
If you like this video, if you like this episode, please click “Like” on the episode, and please subscribe to The Wise Decision Maker to make sure that you don’t miss any content on making wise decisions and avoiding dangerous judgment errors. And of course, follow us on social media to help yourself get a whole variety of content and engage with me and with other members of Disaster Avoidance Experts on addressing dangerous judgment errors and making the wisest decisions.
Now, you can learn more, much more, about these topics in my book on addressing dangerous judgment errors and making the best decisions. It’s called Never Go with Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters. And, you can subscribe to my free course on this topic, The Wise Decision Maker course, and, again, that will be linked in the show notes.
So, I hope to see you on the next episode of The Wise Decision Maker, and I’m wishing you the wisest decisions, my friends.
Bio: An internationally-recognized thought leader known as the Disaster Avoidance Expert, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. A best-selling author, he is best known for Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019), The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships (New Harbinger, 2020), and Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic (Changemakers Books, 2020). He published over 550 articles and gave more than 450 interviews to prominent venues such as Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, CBS News, Time, Business Insider, Government Executive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fast Company, and elsewhere. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts. It also stems from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, LinkedIn, and register for his free Wise Decision Maker Course.